Giving Up Enemies

When it comes to books and movies, we love our enemies! Lord of the Rings gave us Sauron and the Orcs. Harry Potter gave us Voldemort. The Avengers gave us Thanos. And Star Wars gave us Darth Vader! When the new Spiderman movie was being advertised, I was very excited to see the hints that Dr. Octopus was going to be the villain again. He was always one of my favorite bad guys in the Spiderman universe.

A well-developed bad guy will make a movie successful. Think of the Batman movies. The Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Bane, all were worthy adversaries.

We love the stories in the Bible that give us a strong antagonist to our beloved protagonist. Moses vs. Pharoah. Jacob vs. Esau. Joseph vs. his brothers. Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal. Paul vs. the Pharisees. And we can not forget the ultimate clash of good vs. evil that runs right through all these stories.

As Americans we like to pride ourselves on being the good guys to whatever antagonist that might challenge us. When I was young it was the Russians who were our antagonists. You saw this played out in popular movies such as Rocky 4, Rambo 3, Red Dawn and several of the James Bond movies. Over the years it has become others that have represented Communist dictatorships and Al-Qaeda as well as renewed tensions with Russia right now over the invasion of Ukraine.   

When we look to the Gospels there is no doubt that Jesus had his enemies. There were people he enraged and upset by his teachings and his actions. Some of the Pharisees were always quick to question him and try and trick him.

But what we want to look at today is how Jesus reacted to his enemies. The passage we are looking at is traditionally the passage we look to for Palm Sunday. We will revisit this passage on that weekend, but we want to look at it from the point of view on how Jesus reacted to his enemies. Many of us who grew up on John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or James Bond movies would find Jesus’ approach to his enemies very disturbing. We want the good guys to sweep in and obliterate the bad guys with new gadgets, weapons, and cool cars! The American way and the Jesus way are very different.

Let’s take a look at Luke 19:37-40

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

This is known as the Triumphal Entry. Jesus has finally arrived at Jerusalem and he is riding in on a colt. The people are praising him and shouting out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Pharisees get upset at this and ask him to rebuke the people, but Jesus lets the Pharisees know that the people’s excitement is justified and can not be held back.

But then we get some insight into what is going on inside of Jesus. Instead of riding in with bravado and machismo relishing the praises of his followers, swearing to punch back at his enemies, he does something very unexpected. It says in verse 41 that:

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 

He wept. His heart was actually broken. He showed tears. Why? He goes on to say that:

42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Jesus sees into the hearts of the people praising him and knows that their actions are hiding a deeper issue. He knows that these people are praising him thinking that he will be a political leader that they want to overthrow the Roman occupation and establish a Jewish nation. Jesus knows that those who praise him now will just in days be yelling “Crucify him!” Their lust for power and nationalism has caused them to be blind to the way of Jesus. What Jesus had to do was definitely not what the people wanted him to do. They wanted a good guy to defeat their political enemies once and for all and establish them as their own people. Jesus knew in their hearts that they would not understand what he had to do and through their own stubbornness and hate, they would eventually face the destruction of their people which was fulfilled in AD 70. Jesus didn’t want this for the Jewish people, but he knew that they would reject his way.

We see a glimpse into Jesus’ heart for the people in Jerusalem when we go back a couple of chapters and look at Luke 13:34-35. He expresses his sorrow over the people of Jerusalem in say that:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

We peer into the heart of God in this passage. God wants to bring together the people of Jerusalem like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings, but he realizes they are not willing. He knows the pain and destruction that is coming because of the choice they made with a bravado “Jerusalem first” kind of attitude. He knew that they would miss the whole point of his mission. And this broke his heart. Jesus had genuine feelings for his people and wanted them to see and understand the salvation he was bringing to them.

And these are the feelings and thoughts he had for his people as he was entering into Jerusalem on a colt. Instead of riding in on a war horse with armor, shield and sword, showing off masculine power to kill and destroy his enemies, he rode in on a colt, knowing that his weapon was going to be the sacrifice of his own body that would once and for all destroy sin and death. He wept, not for what he had to endure, but for the people who were all missing the point of his true salvation. He was riding into Jerusalem knowing that he would face his political enemies, his religious enemies, and all these people who would turn on him, people who would fall to all the fake news of their day and flip on Jesus, not seeing the news of all the prophets that came before them pronouncing the coming of the king who would defeat sin and death at the cross for the salvation of all those who believe. And this is what broke Jesus’ heart.

In fact, Jesus tried to teach about his approach to his enemies in the Sermon on the Mount. He said to his listeners:

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We see in this passage that God’s grace and mercy falls on everybody alike. The sun rises for the evil and the good. The rain falls for the righteous and unrighteous. His love is expressed through his creation lavishly to all. We are to give up that hatred, that bitterness, that anger towards our enemies and learn how to love them the way Jesus loved his enemies. Jesus knows that the only way to defeat hatred is not with more hate but with love. Instead of escalating hate for hate, pouring gasoline on the fire, we put it out with water through our love for our enemies. This is one of the defining marks of true Christ-followers. It is easy to love those who think like us, act like us, vote like us, and look like us. It is easy to take cheap shots at those who think differently than you. It is easy to look at a whole group of people that are in some ways different than you and, because of that, consider them your enemy. I have had to caution people I love to be careful of what news source they watch or podcasts they listen to because there are some that are very toxic always trying to define other people, other Americans, as our enemy. This can not be representative of the body of Christ. We are a kingdom people who ought to really mean it when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In God’s economy we are to live into being one people defined by our love for each other, and even love for those who may consider themselves our enemies. Jesus did not mark out who his enemies were. It was them that claimed to be his enemy. Instead, Jesus, at his most excruciating moments on the cross, looked out at those who considered themselves his enemies and he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” He took their hate and rage and anger and bloodlust and nailed all of that to the cross. His one act of sacrifice opened up a path to forgiveness and salvation from the constant turmoil of pain and death brought on by our hate.

And Jesus also tells us that not only are we to love our enemies, but we are to pray for them. When we do so it says that we are moving towards perfection just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Imagine that! The goal of Christian perfection is not church attendance, having the right theology or political views, or reading the Bible, or being a Sunday School teacher or youth leader. Jesus says it comes down to our attitude towards our enemies. Loving those who love us is easy. Everybody does it. But can we give up our hatred for our enemies and learn to love them in the same way that Jesus loved them as he rode into Jerusalem? Can we let go of the angry rhetoric, the hateful attitudes, the fear and loathing of those who aren’t like us? Can we look at the other as a person created in the image of God whom God loves just as much as he loves us? For when we do so, we come close to perfection in our spiritual life in this lifetime.

Love is what compelled Jesus toward his journey to the cross.

So where do we go from here? How do we respond? I know for me just recently I had to give up a podcast because it was so enemy-driven; defining “those people” as the enemies we must defeat with our ideas about politics and reform. I listened to 3 episodes, and I noticed that at the end of each episode I was mad, distressed and angry. This was not helping my blood pressure. Instead, I try to concentrate on listening to podcasts and news sources that uplift, inspire, encourage and try to show either an objective view of what is going on in the world or a kingdom perspective of how we should look at the world. Some of you need to detox from what you are putting in front of your eyes if you think that you have enemies because some guy or girl on a podcast or opinion news show tells you to think that way. You need to immerse yourself in the words of Christ and how he viewed the world, how he views his people, and how he viewed those who considered themselves his enemies. He wept for them.

When was the last time you were moved to tears because you were made aware of how lost people are in their sins? Believe me, this is a constant angst that every pastor of every church has been feeling especially through the pandemic. Many of us need to rid ourselves of the fake conspiracy theories and fake news sights and stop giving into fear and hate.

According to a recent Barna study done about the state of the church and clergy in America:

about 38 percent of Protestant senior pastors surveyed have considered leaving ministry over the past year. Among pastors under age 45, that number rose to 46 percent.

In personal phone calls, emails to congregations, and announcements on video, my colleagues have explained why they are leaving. An intractable conflict. Embedded sexism. Shifting congregational commitments. Unclear paths for ministry following the pandemic. Exhaustion, low pay, and lack of appreciation. After 18 months of live-streamed worship services, tele-pastoral care, and online funerals, my exhausted friends are leaving their churches one by one. Each week, I learn of another pastor transitioning not only out of their current job but out of ministry altogether.

… what we gain as pastors is the opportunity to help forge communities held by common commitments to the gospel. We get to nurture generosity, redistribute our money, and create forms of mutual aid and care. We learn to get along with people with whom we disagree. We carve out new ways for conflict, repair, and restoration.

But in the wreckage of Trumpian politics and a never-ending-pandemic, our jobs have been reduced to negotiating skirmishes over mask-wearing and vaccination status. Former and current pastors have shared with me that their denominations and powerful congregants have pushed for a false unity that tolerates homophobia, racism, and conspiracy theories. My friend Ryan, a seasoned pastor, finally gave up. He felt that he could no longer follow the work of the Holy Spirit when he was expected to make room for people who actively thwarted God’s movement.

Now, I read this to you to help you see what is going on from a clergy perspective overall in America. For these past two years, many in the American church did not rise to the occasion and let our faith shine. Instead, we gave into an “us vs. them” mentality on multiple fronts. We created enemies with those we disagree with. While I cannot speak for unbelievers, this ought not to be for Christ-followers.

Looking at more recent events, I know for me that not only was the pandemic years hard, but now seeing the unfolding conflict in Ukraine is painful to watch. Seeing people in a war that they did not ask for by a person who wants to occupy their land. Are the people of Ukraine worthy of our prayers and support? I certainly hope so. We should be doing everything possible to help them in their suffering. But how do we show love to the aggressor? Do we pray for Putin and the soldiers that are involved in this war? Do we pray for President Zalinsky and the people he is trying to protect and defend? Absolutely. We need to be in prayer for this conflict and for God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness to bring a resolution to all of it. We need to pray for God’s grace to break through the hearts of those who started this. We need to pray for God’s justice and righteousness to triumph through it all. Any type of war ought to break our hearts.

And finally, I want to end with some lyrics by a favorite worship band of mine, Hillsong. They sing in a song entitled “Hosanna”:

Heal my heart and make it clean

Open my eyes to things unseen

Show me how to love like You have loved me

Break my heart for what breaks Yours

Everything I am for your Kingdom’s cause

As I walk from Earth into eternity

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest.

So, with all this in mind, let’s choose to be a people that are known for our tears rather than our hate, anger, and fears. Lent is a considered a time where we reflect on our sin and mortality; the reason of why we need a Savior, because of our own failings. This is why we look forward to Resurrection Sunday! Jesus rose again to usher in a new Kingdom that we are invite into. Are we living into the fullness of this or are we getting distracted by the divisiveness of this world? Are we like the people with Jesus, as he went into Jerusalem, ready to sing his praises, but when things get tough, we deny him with our actions?

May God open our eyes to the things that break his heart and may they penetrate our hard hearts.

May God create in each of us a tenderness and concern for others in just the same way that Jesus wanted to care for his people like a hen taking care of her chicks under her wings.

And may we learn to show love and compassion towards all people as image-bearers of God Himself.

Humble us Lord and help us to see things from a Kingdom perspective instead of our myopic, selfish, conspiracy-laden views of “us vs. them”. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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